OGDEN — Matthew Stewart is accused of taking the life of an Ogden police officer and injuring several others on Jan. 4. But since that time, the court has seldom addressed issues related to his guilt or innocence.
Instead, his case has been mired in issues of who will represent him, how his defense will be funded and whether the public will have access to all hearings in the case.
At another hearing in 2nd District Court Tuesday, Judge Noel Hyde decided to tackle the attorney issue first and scheduled a hearing for May 31. Who will represent Stewart has been a point of contention almost since Stewart was charged with murder, a capital offense; seven counts of attempted aggravated murder, a first-degree felony; and production of a controlled substance, a second-degree felony; in the shooting at his Ogden home.
Ogden police officer Jared Francom was killed and five other officers were also shot and injured during the melee when the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force showed up at Stewart's home to serve a search warrant.
Stewart and his family want Randall Richards to represent him. But Stewart was found to be indigent, which prompted the court to appoint two public defenders — attorneys William Albright and Ryan Bushell — who will be paid with funds from Weber County.
Stewart's family created a website asking for as much as $70,000 for Stewart's defense. Meantime, Richards stayed on the case even after Hyde ruled that Albright and Bushell would be Stewart's primary attorneys.
On May 18, Stewart sent a letter to Hyde asking that he "release" Albright and Bushell as his attorneys.
"My attorney, Randall W. Richards, will continue to represent me as my counsel of choice … " Stewart wrote. "I am asking that this release be effective immediately."
Tuesday's hearing was supposed to be about a defense motion asking that hearings regarding expert witnesses be closed to the public. Instead it was dominated by the attorney issue.
Hyde ruled that as long as Stewart is declared indigent, Albright and Bushell will remain Stewart's attorneys. That matter will be discussed — in addition to the attorney issue — on May 31.
"The declaration of indigency is a critical issue that must be addressed," Hyde said.
Should Richards be appointed as counsel, prosecutor Chris Allred told the judge Tuesday that the county would not fund any of the man's defense, stating that Stewart will be responsible for paying for "defense resources." Hyde said the funding issue could be discussed at another hearing, after the attorney and indigency issues are resolved.
Prosecutor Christopher Shaw said his primary concern was the preliminary hearing, which is currently set for July 18-20. "We don't want the fact that Mr. Richards is taking over … to affect that date," he said.
But Richards said that date is too soon for him because there is still evidence he is waiting on, including ballistics reports. He also indicated that he will ask to have future hearings on experts closed to the public. Whether any hearing will be closed will be the topic of a separate future hearing, Hyde said.
Albright indicated that the investigator he's been working with to defend Stewart could withdraw if Richards is appointed.
Stewart sat quietly through the hearing, his face clean-shaven and his hair parted. His father, Michael Stewart, said the family prefers Richards "because he's a dedicated attorney. He's dedicated to the case."
"We feel like Randy Richards is the lead attorney on this and if Mr. Albright and Mr. Bushell want to help, they can take his instructions," Michael Stewart said.
The man's family said the public has yet to hear all the evidence in the case, but has already convicted Matthew Stewart. Still, they reported that he's "in good spirits."